Joss Whedon| Cabin in the Woods Q&A

Collider: I was curious if you could talk about your writing process. A lot of writers I’ve talked to have a golden period where they’ll write when they wake up in the morning for three or four hours, and then they sort of burn out and do other things. Could you sort of talk about your process?
JOSS WHEDON: You know, I always was an early morning or late night writer. Early morning was my favorite; late night was because you had a deadline. And at four in the morning you make up some of your most absurd jokes. I feel like Cabin in the Woods is a four in the morning movie. But then once you have children, you write whenever the hell you can. When they’re napping, and then later on when they’re at school. Whenever you’re given that opportunity you have to just get into that zone, and there is no great time to write there is only enough time to write.

This movie, Drew and I locked ourselves in the hotel for three days and all-time was the time to write. We would break for dinner, but spend that time just going over what we still had to do that day. We never talked about anything else, but because we were so locked into the vision of the thing there wasn’t a lot of downtime. There wasn’t a lot of pacing, we wouldn’t get tired, we didn’t go, “Oh you know, let’s gab about stuff,” at any point. The fingers kept flying; I mean I did a personal best on this which I think was 26 pages in a day.

Yeah that’s a number that most people will not achieve.
You know honestly, I’m not looking to top it (laughs). We had done a lot of prep and everything, but it also came from our giddy joy at being able to write this. We didn’t know if anybody was gonna make it, we just were like, “Oh my!” Like War of the Gargantuas, they’re destroying Tokyo and we’re just having such a good time with it. And to me it feels like the entire movie—this feels like it was all written at four in the morning. The aesthetic of the piece is like, “Those guys are not okay. They’re very tired, that’s some weird sh*.”

Obviously I want to remain spoiler-free, but I want to talk about the fact that both Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are great. After seeing this, are you sorta like, “Yeah they need to be in my next movie?”
Actually I did call Bradley when I was doing Much Ado About Nothing to see if he was available, but he wasn’t. Many people weren’t. But he’s someone that, he’s got a particular pitch that’s very much in our wheelhouse; Bradley probably had the most improv stuff in the movie. He and Richard Jenkins were the guys that we wrote it for, and being a giant West Wing-head and knowing him a little, he has a reverence that matches me and Drew really, really well. He’s an idiot, and we can totally write for that.

What’s your favorite part of Comic-Con?
My second favorite part of Comic-Con is connecting with people that you just don’t get to see any other place, because most of the people I work with live in Brazil. There is no hub of the comic book industry anymore. It’s just so scattered because we do everything digitally, so it’s the chance I get to see the people and connect with them while I’m seeing my idols, while I’m hanging with my friends that I came with.

But my absolute favorite part of Comic-Con is seeing like a Mass Effect guy hanging out with a Sailor Moon, and they’re just having a great time. Nerds, we love what we love with a passion and sometimes it’s an angry passion, and to see that all sort of bleed out and everybody just connect, like “Your passion, my passion, equally valid. Let’s party.” To me, that kind of connection, that’s what I want in my work, that’s what I want in my life. That’s cool.

I could do a whole segue into the Comic-Con documentary, but I won’t. I wanted to ask, do you collect anything and do you have any props from anything you’ve worked on in your home?
I’m actually just getting rid of my Alien egg because it frightens my son, with good reason. It frightens me now that I think of it. He’s never seen Alien, but I’ve got this horrific egg thing that was a gift when we did Alien: Resurrection and it’s down in the cellar. He mentioned to me that he was not comfortable with it and I was like, “Well actually you know what, I’ll get rid of it.”

They sell storage units now.
Well yes they do, and there are other places I could put it, but he said, “I could go down and I just know it’s there, even when I don’t see it,” and so I was like, “You know what Arden, I’m gonna get rid of it,” and he was like, “Okay. But what if it’s already hatched?” But you know, I’m not a collector of things. I like Victorian children’s novels extremely a lot. If I would say I collect anything, that’s what I’ll hunt for now and again at old book stores. I can’t become attached to things, the accumulation of something for its own sake has never been in my DNA. I love comic books, but I love them because I wanna read them.

I was gonna say, for me and a lot of people I think, when you’re younger you maybe collect a lot more and as you get older you realize, maybe I wanna spend money on my son or on a car or other things.
When I was a kid, maybe 11, I remember saying, “When I grow up I wanna have enough money to buy a really cool car, because I won’t.” (laughs).

I definitely wanna ask you a few Avengers questions. What is the soundtrack gonna be like?
The Hulk dies. Oops. Oh! No, the soundtrack is gonna be like Alan Silvestri kickin’ it up with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road.

Are you going after any specific songs?
I figured that’s what you were saying, but no. There’s not a lot of needle-drops in The Avengers, it’s very old school. I don’t really actually tend towards the needle-drop. To me, the moment becomes about the song, unless it’s well-used or integrated brilliantly and perfectly. The score is very old-fashioned, which is why Alan was letter perfect for this movie because he can give you the heightened emotion, the Zimmer school of “I’m just feeling a lot right now!” but he can also be extraordinarily cue and character specific, which I love.

I did try to get a song, there’s a song when we see Tony Stark at his place. They said, “He really should be playing music,” and I’m like, “Well all this music you’ve played me doesn’t work. I’ll tell you exactly what we need, ‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers’ by Jeff Beck, it’s a cover of a Stevie Wonder song from Blow-by-Blow. It’s gonna be just the right amount of smooth and romantic and from his wheelhouse of rock and stuff,” and they’re like, “Yeah that costs too much.” I’m like, “But…you have all the money in the…no?” They found a good song but I was like, “I asked for one song, just one!”

I’m curious, how long was your first cut and how long is it right now?
My first cut was three hours long and it’s now down to 2 hours and 15 minutes, and I’m extremely proud of that. I had always intended to go over two, under two and a half. There was no way a movie with this many great actors and this much epic scope was gonna clock in under two and not feel a little anemic, somebody wasn’t gonna get their moment if that happened. But at the same time, I get very angry that romantic comedies run over two hours long, it’s like “Guys, that’s not okay.” More isn’t more. I don’t want anything in the movie that shouldn’t be.

AVENGERS Behind the Scenes | Joss Whedon with Captain America Shield
AVENGERS Behind the Scenes | Joss Whedon with Captain America Shield

There are definitely things that it broke my heart to get rid of. There’s a lot of me that got cut out, but I think part of the process in a situation like this is you make the movie, you make your movie, then you remove yourself out of the equation. At some point you stop looking beyond The Avengers movie at your own stuff, you don’t look at that horizon you look at this movie and you go, “You know what, The Avengers are more important than I am so these things that I’m obsessed with aren’t necessarily moving the story forward, and therefore they are baggage.” You can do that in a TV show, you can bring your baggage and sort of lay it out because you have a season to do it, but in a movie you actually have to remove yourself from the equation a bit and when I was finally able to do that, I saw a much clearer road to how to get the best experience for the audience.

Do you expect to maybe do an extended cut on the Blu-ray that will be like 10-minutes longer?
No. We’ll have DVD extras. I, like Drew, believe very strongly in putting the director’s cut into the theaters. I believe that the director’s cut is the best movie for the studio and the best version of the movie for the audience. I’ve never really been in a situation where I had to pull the beating heart out of something that I did. I think people get to see a lot of extraordinary extras because I did shoot a bunch of stuff that I love, but the movie is the movie I want it to be.

Are there a lot of Easter eggs, and are there any references to anything you’ve done in the past like Buffy or Dr. Horrible?
I am not a fan of referencing your own work when it’s in a different universe than what you’re doing. That, to me, is a wink at the audience and winking isn’t actually cool when you’re not like 10. When I was 10 my girlfriend thought it was super cool that I could wink, but now you’re just sad if you do that. There are a couple of mentions of things; we were preserving the continuity and I threw in one or two things where I’m like, “Well this is something one of them would say because it’s part of the Marvel universe even if it’s not a part of this movie necessarily.” I had such a job just making the thing coherent that I didn’t have time to play a lot of games, and I’m not really a fan of that. I do think fanboys will see more in certain bits than everybody else, but ultimately I want them all to have the same experience.

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Collider Apr.2012.

April 5, 2012 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links